Two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference face off in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Saturday as the New England Revolution (6-3-2, 20 points) host D.C. United (5-3-3, 18 points) at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The first-place Revolution enter the match riding a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1), and are coming off a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Union last Saturday at PPL Park. On the other side of the pitch, second-place D.C has lost just once in its past nine (5-1-3), and enters Saturday's clash fresh off a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium on Wednesday.
Saturday's match is the second time the longtime rivals have met this season. On April 5, D.C. earned a 2-0 win over the Revolution at RFK Stadium. Incidentally, it marked the last time the Revolution had tasted defeat.
Here's what to watch for as the Revolution and D.C. get set to square off for East supremacy:
• Keeping a lid on Espindola and Johnson. After a slow break out of the gate, United has come alive thanks to the efforts of its two biggest offseason acquisitions, Fabian Espindola and Eddie Johnson. Espindola enters the match with five goals and five assists, while Johnson is starting to find his rhythm with a goal and an assist in recent weeks. Knowing the kind of damage D.C.'s dynamic duo can create, Revolution right back Darrius Barnes said that he and his teammates will have to keep their heads on a swivel come Saturday.
"They have a potent attack," Barnes said. "Their front guys are very dangerous, Espindola and Johnson, and those are guys that you really have to be aware of. At the drop of a dime, those guys can change a game."
• Experience vs. youth. How D.C. has turned its fortunes around after a last-place finish in 2013 can be traced back to the players the team brought in during the offseason. And many of those players carried a wealth of experience into the locker room. In addition to Espindola and Johnson, D.C. added Sean Franklin and Jeff Parke, brought back Bobby Boswell, and traded for Chris Rolfe in April. Meanwhile, the Revolution are one of the youngest teams in MLS. Not only do they have just two players over the age of 30, but many of their most reliable players -- including Diego Fagundez, Patrick Mullins, Teal Bunbury and Andrew Farrell -- are under the age of 25.
• More goals in store for the Revolution? The Revolution enter the match with 10 goals in their past two games, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can light up the scoreboard again this weekend. Not only is Fagundez (3 goals, 2 assists) in form, but so are Mullins (3 goals), Lee Nguyen (5 goals, 1 assist), Chris Tierney (1 goal, 2 assists) and Bunbury (2 goals, 3 assists). In other words, no single player is forced to shoulder the offense. Although another five-goal night may not be in the cards, the Revolution's offense is certainly capable of setting off more fireworks on Saturday.
"We don't want to be unrealistic," Barnes said. "Obviously, we want to continue to play attacking football and continue to press, and create chances in our attacking third, but we know we're not going to score five goals in every game. It's just how the cookies have crumbled [recently]."
• Shutting down the right flank. While D.C.'s offense may not be scoring at the same eye-popping rate as the Revolution, United has certainly shown that it's dangerous in possession. One area of the pitch United have become accustomed to utilizing is along the right flank, where Johnson, midfielder Nick DeLeon and Sean Franklin have all put opposing defenses on their heels. While Franklin's injured foot may keep him on the sidelines again this week, look for D.C. to test the likes of Fagundez and Tierney, who'll be called upon to help snuff out any potential chances for United.
• Don't sleep on D.C.'s defense. While United hasn't been shy in the final third, it has been equally strong in the back thanks to the leadership of Boswell and Parke in the center of the defense. In its past three games, United has allowed only one goal, and it blanked a potent Dynamo side on Wednesday. Also worth remembering: This is the same defense that kept the Revolution's attack off the scoreboard less than two months ago. Despite the Revolution's recent offensive success, you can bet D.C. is eyeing another stout defensive performance on Saturday, and has the players to get it done.
"We have to keep moving the ball," Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen said. "We have to move it quickly around the attacking third, and just have to have players moving off of each other and not to be too stagnant. I think that will [allow us to] create spaces and gaps in the final third, and we should be able to punish them."